February 6, 2004

Administration says holding down pay raises helps agencies' budgets

By David McGlinchey

The Bush administration is attempting to hold the civil service pay raise to an average of 1.5 percent in the fiscal 2005 budget because it does not want to saddle federal agencies with an unfunded mandate, an administration official said Friday.

President Bush submitted his fiscal 2005 budget proposal Monday. It included a 1.5 percent pay increase for civilian federal workers and a 3.5 percent pay raise for military personnel. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has repeatedly called for equal military and civilian pay increases. They overruled Bush's 2004 proposal by granting a 4.1 percent pay raise for military and civilian personnel this year.

The fiscal 2005 budget, however, includes a proposal for a new rule requiring that Congress specify military and civilian pay raises in the annual budget resolution. Any effort to adjust the raise after that point could be prevented if a member of Congress raised a point of order against it.

Some House legislators claim the proposal was slipped in to circumvent the usual congressional pay adjustment.

Lawmakers have approved military and civilian pay parity for 16 of the past 18 years.

The language "shows a basic disregard for federal civilian employees as well as for the independence of the legislative branch's budget and appropriations processes," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The administration official, however, said that when Congress raises pay higher than the rate provided in the administration's budget, it often fails to provide funding. That process, he said, "happens quite regularly" and "unfairly" burdens agencies.

"Pay raises can go up by the amount that they are budgeted for," the official said. "Congress votes a higher level, but doesn't always provide the money. Some agencies have to take it out of [their] hide, take it out of their operating expenses."

A House staffer said that it would be easier to fund pay raises if Bush backed pay parity in his initial budget proposal. Lawmakers vowed to fight the new budget provision and institute pay parity in fiscal 2005. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said he had talked with his Republican colleagues and was confident the language would be removed.

If House lawmakers had not noticed the provision in the budget proposal, the pay parity debate might have been over before it began.

"We would have been stuck," Moran said. "We would have been up there on the floor talking confidently about why we need pay parity" and the debate could have been stopped on a point of order.

Moran, who has served on the Appropriations Committee for years, said that he was not surprised by the new tactic. "It was actually a very clever move."